Nicholas Palazzolo has been living in his truck since late November last year. At age 73, spending the coldest months of the year in a vehicle isn’t easy — but Palazzolo keeps his situation in perspective.
“I had it easy by comparison,” said Palazzolo. “There are others that are going through some pretty horrific times for an infinite variety of reasons.”
Palazzolo is referring to the other veterans facing housing insecurity in the city. Right out of high school in 1966, he was drafted into the U.S. Army. After an honorable discharge, Palazzolo worked steady jobs as a mechanic and in electronics repair, but that didn’t keep him from facing homelessness a few times over the years.
This week, due to coordinated efforts between local homeless advocates, the National League of Cities, and Gundaker commercial group, Palazzolo signed a lease for an apartment in south St. Louis County.
St. Patrick Center, the St. Louis Housing Authority, and the St. Louis branch of Veterans Affairs were also organizing forces in securing Palazzolo stable housing. Representatives from all the organizations are hosting a recruitment event Saturday to encourage other St. Louis landlords to dedicate homes and apartments for homeless veterans.
“Each time we house a veteran, we house a person who has served our country,” said Aaron Gibson, a housing specialist with the Department of Veterans Affairs Hope Recovery Center. “We want to make sure that they not only benefit from being in the military but after they get out the military.”
Gibson is Palazzolo’s case manager, and on any given day is managing the cases of thirty to forty other veterans in need of housing. He says one of the biggest barriers is the lack of landlords who will take on homeless renters.
“Nick isn’t a typical case among the veterans we’re working with,” said Gibson. “A lot of our veterans have needs that go even further, like with finding a source of income, or they have criminal histories, felonies — they have all these things going against them."
Also, many veterans working with Gibson and the Hope Recovery Center are paying their rent with housing vouchers, better known as Section 8 vouchers. In most parts of the St. Louis region landlords can specify “no Section 8” in their rental ads. That's even if their property is listed in a price range eligible for housing vouchers.
“[Landlords] want to get the best tenant for their property, and we understand that,” Gibson continued. “We’re just asking them to give these veterans a second chance, or at least a second look.”
Saturday’s event will bring together local and national experts to discuss St. Louis’ progress alleviating homelessness. Speakers will also talk about what landlords can expect from community service providers when they commit to setting aside housing units for homeless veterans.
“Give those who have the hardest hardships a break,” said Palazzolo, who will also be speaking on Saturday. “I mean, everybody deserves a chance.”
Follow Jenny on Twitter @jnnsmn